24 Lessons Learned From My First Garden

When I decided to try my hand at gardening, I had no idea what I was getting into. Looking back, there are a few lessons that I learned the hard way which could have made the process a bit easier.

Now that my first ever garden is done for the year, all except for the 5 or 6 carrot tops poking up, it’s time for me to reflect on all of the things I’ve learned.

digging a garden with a hoe
digging a garden with a hoe

1. Test your soil.

I didn’t do this. I should have. I even got a nice little box to put a soil sample in to mail to my local Department of Agriculture for a free testing.

They would have been able to tell me exactly what my soil is lacking, so that I would have known how to properly amend it and I could have given my plants the nutrients they needed. Next year I will definitely do this.

Any gardener will tell you that healthy soil is essential for growing strong, healthy plants. But what makes for healthy soil? One of the most important factors is the pH level, which indicates how acidic or alkaline the soil is. T

The ideal pH level for most plants is between 6 and 7, but this can vary depending on the type of plant. That’s why it’s so important to test your soil before you start planting.

A simple soil test kit can help you to determine the pH level of your soil, as well as the levels of important nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Please, please do this!

2. Feed your soil.

You must fertilize! Just sticking a seed in the ground, watering it, and hoping it will grow doesn’t work. Believe me. Lesson learned.

Fertilizer provides essential nutrients that help plants to grow and thrive. However, it is important to use fertilizer properly in order to avoid damaging your plants.

This is why testing your soil is so important – it will tell you exactly what your plants need.

Once I realized I wasn’t fertilizing and giving my plants what they needed, I then made the mistake of using too much fertilizer, and the results were disastrous. My plants became overgrown and unhealthy-looking. I quickly learned that less is more when it comes to fertilizer.

These days, I make sure to use a light hand when applying fertilizer, and my plants are all the better for it.

If you’re not sure how to fertilize your garden, I recommend consulting with a professional. They will be able to advise you on what type of fertilizer to use and how often to apply it.

3.Avoid Grass Borders

Don’t leave a grass border inside the garden. I thought it would be a good idea to leave a nice edging of grass along the perimeter of the garden, for me to walk along. Not a good idea.

The grass “path” was too narrow for me to have mowed without hacking at my crops, so it grew nice and tall and just looked like weeds everywhere. Plus, it spread into the garden.

4. Plant Flowers and Companion Plants

I always wondered why people planted flowers in and around their gardens. I assumed it was just to make it look nice and colorful.

But I’ve realized that those flowers actually serve a purpose… to attract bees! You need bees to pollinate your plants, or else you won’t get much fruit at all. Aha! Now I get it!

Plus, some flowers are good companion plants, meaning that they will give nutrients into the soil that other crops will benefit from, or even help to keep nasty bugs away.

Flowers and companion plants play an important role in the health of your garden. Flowers attract bees and other pollinators, which help to fertilize your plants.

Companion plants can help to deter pests, provide nutrients, and improve the overall health of your garden.

Some of my favorite companion plants are lavender, marigolds, and nasturtiums. Lavender is a great pest deterrent, and its fragrant flowers add a touch of luxury to any garden. Marigolds are known for their ability to aerate the soil and attract beneficial insects.

Nasturtiums are not only beautiful, but they also help to protect other plants from pests. When grown together, these plants can create a healthy and vibrant garden.

5. Welcome Birds and Pollinators

I’ve also noticed that many people have bird houses near their gardens. Again, I thought it was just for fun.

But birds can be very helpful to gardeners, as they will enjoy eating nasty pests from your plants. Next year I’d like to have a bird house in a corner of my garden.

Creating a garden that is welcoming to birds and pollinators can provide many benefits. Birds help to control pests, while pollinators play an essential role in plant reproduction.

In addition, both groups can help to increase the overall biodiversity of your garden.

There are a few simple steps you can take to make your garden more inviting to these important creatures.

For example, you can provide nesting materials such as straw or dried grasses, and you can also offer food sources in the form of seeds, fruit, and nectar-rich flowers.

6. Fine Tune the Irrigation

I never knew that you couldn’t water your garden at any ol’ time of the day. You should only water early in the morning, or later in the evening, at times when it’s cool outside. If you water in the heat of the sun it will scorch your plants.

In order to keep my garden healthy and prevent soil erosion, I have learned that it is important to water my plants properly. I make sure to water my garden in the morning so that the sun can evaporate any excess water on the leaves.

I also avoid watering the leaves directly, as this can cause them to rot. Instead, I focus on watering the roots of my plants. By following these simple tips, I am able to keep my garden healthy and prevent soil erosion.

pile of manure on a field

7. Avoid Fresh Manure

One of the most important things I learned this gardening season is that you shouldn’t put fresh manure on the garden. Manure can contain harmful bacteria that can contaminate fruits and vegetables, leading to food poisoning.

Additionally, fresh manure can burn plant roots, causing damage to the plant.

Next season, I will make sure to compost the manure before using it in the garden. Composting breaks down the harmful bacteria and reduces the risk of burning plant roots.

8. Grow Cover Crops

When you are finished using your garden for the year, plant a cover crop. Plants like Crimson Clover, Hairy Vetch, and Rye add nutrients back into the soil.

This year, I learned a lot about different cover crop options and how to best incorporate them into my garden.

Next year, I plan to experiment with using cover crops to mulch my garden beds. I also want to try using a cover crop mix that includes clover, which is known to add nitrogen to the soil.

transplanted tomato plant with white tip leaves because of shock
transplanted tomato plant with white tip leaves because of shock

9. Mind the Thinning and Transplanting

Before you go pulling up seedlings in order to transplant, wait until they are a good size. If you pull them up before they are a fair size, they will only shrivel up before your eyes when you try to replant them.

10. Pay Attention to the Needs of Your Seedlings

One of the most important things I learned about gardening this year is the importance of paying attention to the needs of your seedlings. In particular, I learned that leggy seedlings need more light.

This is something I will definitely be paying more attention to next year.

By providing my seedlings with more light, I will be able to encourage them to grow strong and healthy roots. I am also planning to use a more nutrient-rich soil mix next year, which will give my plants the extra boost they need to thrive.

11. Use Pest Control

Use some sort of pest control. Otherwise, all of your hard work will only benefit the bugs.

I am going to take an organic approach to pest control next year and plant flowers to attract good bugs. I’m also going to pay closer attention to my watering and feeding habits so I’m not accidentally providing shelter for pests.

12. Set Up Good Fences

Good fencing is key. If you have critters in your backyard, make sure you put up a good fence around your garden. Pay close attention to the bottom of your fence, making sure animals can’t push under it.

trees in front of a DIY pallet fence
trees in front of a DIY pallet fence

13. Pay Attention to Harvest Times

One of the most important aspects of gardening is choosing the right time to harvest your plants. If you wait too long, the fruits or vegetables may rot; if you harvest too early, they may not be ripe enough to eat.

This year, I also made the mistake of harvesting my tomatoes too late. As a result, many of them were overripe and had to be thrown away.

Next year, I will pay closer attention to the timing of my harvests. I will also try to stagger my plantings so that I am not harvesting everything at once. This may help reduce some of the gardening overwhelm I get!

14. Loosen the Soil

Root crops really need loose soil. They truly won’t grow in hard ground.

I tried several different methods of loosening the soil, but none of them seemed to work very well. As a result, my plants didn’t grow as well as I had hoped.

This year, I’m going to try a different approach. Instead of relying on manual labor, I’m going to use a rototiller.

15. For Potatoes, Plant in Rows

When it comes to potatoes: row planting is better than planting in holes.

You may recall that when I planted potatoes this year, I experimented with two methods: row planting, and deep hole planting. Only one out of ten holes actually produced anything.

The problem that I realized was that every time it would rain, the holes would fill up. I think the potatoes just rotted.

At least the mounds produced something, though not much at all. I know my mistake was that I didn’t mound them enough. I think I’ll try growing potatoes in a trash can next year!

16. Try Natural Disease Remedies

This year, I decided to take a closer look at natural disease remedies for the garden. I began by researching some of the most common problems that gardeners face, such as powdery mildew and black spot.

I then sought out advice from experienced gardeners on the best ways to combat these diseases. Through my research, I learned that there are a number of effective natural remedies that can be used to keep plants healthy and disease-free.

For example, using a mixture of baking soda and water is an excellent way to prevent powdery mildew from developing on leaves. Blossom-End Rot on tomatoes can be avoided by crushing eggshells and sprinkling them in the soil around the plants.

Next year, I plan to be more proactive in using these natural remedies to keep my garden healthy.

17. Pay Attention to Growing Conditions

I learned that some plants just don’t do well in the heat and others don’t do well in cold temps.

Next year, I will continue to pay close attention to the growing conditions in my garden and make adjustments as necessary. I will also experiment with different techniques and products to see what works best for my plants.

18. Start Some Plants Indoors

This year in the garden, I learned that you need to start some plants indoors. I had always assumed that starting plants indoors was something that only professional gardeners did.

However, I quickly realized that starting some of my plants indoors was the best way to ensure a bountiful harvest. Not only does it give the plants a head start on the growing season, but it also allows you to control the environment in which they grow.

young tomato plants growing in plastic containers indoors
young tomato plants growing in plastic containers indoors

By starting my plants indoors, I can protect them from pests and diseases, and can provide them with the ideal amount of water and sunlight.

19. You Need to Choose the Right Planting Locations

The best location for a plant depends on the plant’s needs, such as sunlight, water, and soil type. When choosing a location for a plant, it is important to consider these needs and make sure that the location can provide them.

For example, plants that need full sun should be placed in an area that gets direct sunlight for most of the day.

Plants that need lots of water should be placed near a water source, such as a hose or irrigation system. And plants that need specific soil types should be planted in an area where the soil matches their needs.

20. Planning Ahead Pays Off

Every gardener knows that there is a lot of planning involved in creating and maintaining a beautiful garden. From choosing the right plants to plotting out a watering schedule, there are many details that need to be considered.

I learned this year that planning ahead can really pay off. For example, next year, I am going to start my tomato plants indoors early so that they will be ready to go when the weather warms up.

I am also going to map out my garden beds, so that I can make the most of the space I have.

21. You Can Let Nature Do a Lot of the Work

One of the most important lessons I learned this year in the garden is that you can let nature do a lot of the work. By using mulch and companion planting, I was able to reduce the amount of time I spent weeding and watering.

Mulch helps to prevent weed growth by blocking out sunlight, and it also helps to retain moisture in the soil.

Companion planting is another great way to reduce the amount of work you have to do in the garden.

By planting certain plants next to each other, you can take advantage of their natural abilities to repel pests or add nutrients to the soil. For example, garlic is a natural pest repellent, and bean plants help to add nitrogen to the soil.

By using these simple techniques, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort in the garden.

22. Only Plant What You Eat

This year, I learned an important lesson: only plant what you eat. In the past, I had always planted a large variety of vegetables, more than my family could ever hope to consume.

When you grow a garden, you need to be mindful of what your family eats so you don’t end up throwing away so much (as I did).

It can be overwhelming to constantly have to harvest from a garden and then just toss it. Instead, plant the foods your family likes and is able to eat and don’t waste time growing produce you’ll never use (unless you plan to donate it, of course).

23. If You Garden, You’ve Got to Preserve!

As any gardener knows, the key to a successful harvest is proper preservation. Whether you’re freezing, canning, or pickling, taking the time to preserve your fruits and vegetables can help you enjoy the fruits of your labor all year round.

And while canning tomatoes may seem like a lot of work, the results are definitely worth it. In short, if you want to make the most of your garden, you’ve got to learn how to preserve it!

24. You Learn From Your Mistakes

One of the most important things I learned this year in the garden is that you learn from your mistakes. No matter how much research you do or how experienced you are, there will always be something new to learn.

For instance, I thought I knew everything there was to know about watering plants. However, I quickly learned that overwatering can be just as harmful as under-watering.

I also learned that it is important to pay attention to the changing seasons. What worked in the spring might not work in the summer, and vice versa.

By paying close attention to the conditions in my garden, I am able to make small adjustments that have a big impact.

This year was full of surprises, but I am grateful for what I learned. I am confident that next year will be even better as a result.

Lessons Learned and Experiences Made

So, lots of lessons learned… the hard way. But, when you learn like that, you never forget!

I’ve decided not to plant a fall crop. I’m going to work on amending the soil for Spring. I’m excited about next year’s garden. I just know it will be better, especially since I won’t be making so many crucial mistakes!

So, what about you? Have any tips to share with us new gardeners that will spare us from having to learn another lesson the hard way?!

9 thoughts on “24 Lessons Learned From My First Garden”

  1. I cannot believe how valuable this blog is, holy cow! I’m just trying to soak everything in so that when I start my homestead, I don’t fail TOO much. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Reply
  2. This was our first year in planting corn so we didn’t know that we needed to pick the corn right away. We planted our bell pepper plants to close to our jalapeno plants and they crossed pollinated so our bell peppers were a little hot. Our potato seeds did much better in our own clay like dirt with added rabbit and chicken manure than they did in a raised bed with peat moss…go figure.

    I’m going to try the egg shells around the tomato plants this spring to see if there is a difference.

    We had to put a fence up around our strawberry raised bed because we found a squirrel eating our berries. The squirrel was taste testing them to see if they were ripe and he would drop the ones that were not ripe on the ground.

    Next season I can not procrastinate on picking the blueberries because literally over night we had not a single ripe blueberry left on 12 bushes because of the birds. Thousands of blueberries gone!

    Thanks Kendra for the lessons learned post.

    Reply
  3. Plant marigolds around your garden… especially around tomato plants! They do a great job of repelling pests and make the garden even more colorful and beautiful!

    Also, during the spring and summer, plant Cosmos and zinnias. These annual flowers are beautiful, start so easily from seed and attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds like crazy! The Cosmos get really tall so you can plant them around your veggie garden and by the time they get good and big (they take a while to get big and bloom… kinda like sunflowers) then they provide some very light shade at a time that’s hot and the veggie plants can use it. The zinnias come in many different varieties. Here in Louisiana I’ve been successful with every variety I’ve tried but that could be different elsewhere. These two flowers, I find, are the best bang for your buck and do a great job of attracting those workers to the garden!

    I’ve had an interest in gardening all my life (even as a small child). Both sets of grandparents are avid gardeners and they both tell me that no matter how long you’ve been doing it… you are always going to be learning. It’s trial and error. You can get lots of tips from people, read lots of books, etc. but each and every area of soil is different… position of your land is different, etc. Don’t be afriad to experiment and don’t be afraid to fail sometimes.

    Again, thanks for sharing with us!

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  4. My biggest advice is to look at gardening like a journey. Unfortunately it is such a long journey that you may never reach the destination. Be patient with yourself. Involve your kids. They may do some damage but the learning they get from it is priceless. Play around, try new things but most of all enjoy it! Keep a journal of what worked and what to change. Start right now getting your beds ready for spring. Till in manure from the goats (tomatoes grew there for a reason) and chickens. This will also help with pest control and weed control next year. My dad comes over with the disc on his tractor and turns my soil after turnip greens are all picked. I then begin planning my garden for next year. I map it out what needs to be done when and where. I have a weekly to do list. I post it…everybody knows what needs to be done. ( I have older kids who help out alot) Every year I learn something new. This year I produced almost all the veggies we will use for the whole year but it didn’t happen all in one year. I have been gardening for my family for about 6 years. Some years I put more money and time than I got in return but don’t give up. You will eventually reap the rewards. How about fruit trees? This is a good time to put in an order to arrive in spring. Try pears… they are easy to grow fairly pest resistant and great canned. I can’t make enough canned pears to last the year. Apples are next but a little harder to keep disease and pests away.

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  5. Thanks for sharing as I didn’t know some of these things. I’m coming into my second summer here & unfortunately my garden last year looked a lot like yours. Now I’m diligently fertilizing fortnightly & watering every couple of days. So far it’s looking better – although it’s only early days yet.

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  6. Keep notes.
    Pay attention to companion planting. I.e. pole beans and garlic = smaller garlic and an awful bean yield.
    Have fun with it. Whether you’re goofy like me and go for the “fun” colored things like purple beans or purple carrots or yellow carrots or whatnot, experiment. Some things flop, some things thrive – you jus t never know.

    Reply
  7. My list is similar to yours. I know I definitely need more pest control. I tried to do it too organic and that did not work out well. I also learned since I have sandy soil that I need to water it everyday.

    Reply

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